By February 17, 2012 1 Comments Read More →

Conservatives’ Clownish Constitutionalism

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Clowns In Control

“Conservatives trust families and the ordinary Americans that are formed by them. Liberals don’t. They border on disdain for the common man.” Rick Santorum in It Takes a Family

Evidence, truth, and logic are not among the top concerns of conservatives as members of Congress, candidates for the Presidency, or among the chattering class. They say what feels good to them and what they calculate will arouse outrage among the electorate. They are unfit to govern and uninterested in doing so. Conservatives wish to rule and they refuse to allow any trifles like evidence, truth, or logic to obstruct their quest for power.  One of the infuriating or endearing habits  conservative politicians, commentators, and columnists, depending on one’s perspective, display in this quest for power is their repeated allusion to the constitution and their recurrent distortion of it. Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post affords an excellent example of this penchant.

In a February 16, 2012, column entitled Overreach; Mr. Krauthammer asserts that President Obama achieves a “constitutional trifecta” by assaulting the free exercise of religion, free enterprise, and individual autonomy.  Engaging prose and phrasing by Mr. Krauthammer that lacks only truth to solidify the power of his argument.

Regarding free exercise of religion, Mr. Krauthammer asserts a right that has no constitutional basis.  He is concerned solely for the free exercise of religion by institutions.  Despite Mr. Krauthammer’s reification of them, institutions, like corporations, are not people and they have no capacity let alone a right to free exercise of religion. Only human beings can exercise religion freely or otherwise. Legal constructs are incapable of religious belief and thus of freely acting on the basis of nonexistent beliefs.  Thomas Jefferson addressed in the Virginia Statute* of Religious Liberty as the: “impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others.” It is this presumptuousness the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is intended to preclude. Yet, this arrogant imposition is what Mr. Krauthammer defends. Every employee is ignored except for those in positions of authority. In Mr. Krauthammer’s view these few have the constitutionally protected right to impose their views on all who work in their organizations.

In the “assault on free enterprise” line of argument Mr. Krauthammer assumes something that he may devoutly wish, but which does not conform to fact.  No economic system is constitutionally mandated or endorsed. There is no constitutional mention of free enterprise much less any constitutional protection of it.  In the twentieth century many proprietors asserted their free enterprise rights to deny accommodations and service to minorities.  There was no such right them and there is no such right now. Private organizations must comply with valid laws and regulations. Every citizen is entitled to equal protection of the laws, and employment in a private enterprise does not deprive one of one’s rights as citizens.  Therefore, private organizations can be required to provide contraception coverage for women just as they can be required to meet OHSA requirements, FLSA requirements, and EEOC requirements. The fact that there is a cost to doing so does not excuse the private enterprise from doing what the laws and pertinent regulations mandate.

Finally, in a masterful logical inversion, Mr. Krauthammer accuses President Obama of assaulting individual autonomy. This in the same article where he asserted institutional authority over every person in the institution’s employ. The entire argument about provision of contraception coverage by religiously-affiliated organizations in the affirmative rests on the contention that people in the hierarchy can impose their beliefs on others.  Those in the hierarchy have autonomy, but those they employ must numbly fall in line with the beliefs of their bosses. Individual autonomy is valid for every individual or it is valid for no individual. In the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty, this point is expressed as follows: “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.”   Mr. Krauthammer thinks all people are equally autonomous but some are much more equal than others. Welcome to the Mr. Krauthammer’s Animal Farm America.

This trifecta of distortions by a nationally known conservative commentator highlights a larger problem with political discourse in America today.  Many people allude to the constitution to validate their political positions and prescriptions. Far fewer people genuinely understand what the constitution says and why it says what it says. The Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Amendments are not talismans. They are rational documents expressing rational principles in clear language. Carrying pocket-sized versions or citing them as incantations imputes no power to one’s arguments. The worth and force of these documents stems from honest reading, rational understanding, and reasoned application.

By circulating spurious constitutional arguments and carelessly invoking our founding documents, conservatives poison the public understanding of these vital sources of principled, purposeful guidance for our political efforts.  If soundly understood and effectively applied, the founding and framing principles and purposes can produce a bountiful politics for America and all Americans. If they are used improperly to advance all manner of nonsense and sharp practice, they lose their moral force and unifying power.

The Constitution as amended confers on every citizen male or female freedom from impositions of ecclesiastical hierarchies and the right to profess and maintain their opinions in religious matters.  It also provides for equal protection of the laws and it conveys no exemption on private organizations or enterprises from the requirements of sound laws and pertinent regulations. Despite their insistence and persistence, conservatives are wrong and President Obama and his administration are right constitutionally and otherwise.

*The Virginia Statute was enacted in 1786, five years prior to the drafting of the Bill of Rights.  The philosophy expressed in the Statute [authored by Thomas Jefferson] is the basis of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment.  For this reason, it is referenced here to shed light on the Constitutional issues surrounding religion in the American Republic.

Two ways to fight back against the clowns are shown below:

Please make the most of these forums.

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  • Larry Conley

    “By a revolting combination of con men and fanatics, the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office.” So says Garry Willis.

    He explores several fallacies at work in this latest reactionary ruse. The link below is worth checking.

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